Being familiar with the previous installment in this trilogy shapes Before Sunset into a near-thriller, a ticking time-bomb of catching up before time has its way once again. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy once again give fantastic performances, radiating more chemistry than any cinematic pairing in history, but now they’re older – both the actors and their characters.
Before Sunset is more subdued, nuanced, and thrilling than its predecessor. Jesse and Celine are older and wiser, fully aware of the heartbreak and problems that come with growing up. Richard Linklater brilliantly slaps a deadline (Jesse’s flight home from his book tour) in the film, bringing a sense of urgency to every line delivered. One long tracking shot, with a few edits, follows the two in real-time through the gorgeous streets and rivers of Paris, through parks and coffee shops.
Gone is the open-armed passion, romance, and possibility of the first film. Sunset studies the passage of time, the hardening of hearts, and all of the caution that incites. Jesse and Celine are so tentative, so logical, condemning romance and yet feeling it so strongly. Jesse continuously tries to buy more time with Celine, inviting her to a cafe and then a tourist boat trip, and although the discussion dives into the serious and the emotional the two continue to dance around and about. This juxtaposition of the time-table and tentative nature of these two brilliant characters solidifies Before Sunset, full of melancholy, as a worthy part of the greatest love story ever told. The image of Celine reaching out for Jesse’s head only to pull back as he divulges the pain he feels encapsulates the film as a whole, and will resonate with me forever.